Thursday, September 24, 2015

AFRIKA MY MUSIC. By Es'kia Mphahlele

There is no gainsaying the fact that the late Es'kia Mphahlele was one of the most eminent, illustrious writers in African history. This book is a continuation of his autobiography, pursuant to his magnum opus, Down Second Avenue. Here he focuses more on his experiences whilst based overseas (far away from his native South Africa) – his achievements as academic, scholar, author, world traveller, and cultural activist. Excitingly he met and mingled with all the early outstanding African writers from diverse countries all over Africa - personalities like Ama Atta Aidoo, Efua T Sutherland, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi, Senghor, Achebe, Kofi Awoonor (he has very warm words for this wonderful Ghanaian writer); among many many others. Mphahlele also explains how being in exile negatively affected many Africans, and cultural conflicts or dissonances experienced abroad; plus of course the effects on one's children - many who could not speak their parents' mother tongues. The author lived in countries like France and England and America - and in many African countries. Everywhere he stayed he contributed to arts and culture, and continued writing and publishing new works. His account of how he met the legendary Leopold Senghor bristles with dignity and respect. We get the impression that the author is a kindly, decent, intellectual; and humanist (which in fact he has been celebrated for). After some 20 years travelling the world, the author and his family take the decision to return to South Africa, which at the time was still operating under the apartheid system). By this time the author is established as a formidable eclectic academic and author, but even he knows that despite all this life would not be easy for him back in South Africa. And initially it is not - he experiences the deprivations of his fellow blacks in the townships, where even taking a "bath" is still somewhat primitive and embarrassing. He travels all over South Africa, including places like Grahamstown where he ponders over many things. For example, the western world celebrates its white "great explorers" that "opened up" swathes of Africa, but the black men who helped them in their task are never mentioned, never mind lauded. And why should they be lauded anyway since they facilitated the capitulation of their own native areas to outsiders...? Such ruminations dot and mark this second autobiography of a great African wordsmith, scholar, and intellectual. A brilliant work. – Malome

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